North Harbour get home by skin of their teeth

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Friday, September 29, 2017    Lynn McConnell    Getty Images

It took two late Bryn Gatland penalty goals to put North Harbour in the winning position and a piece of brilliance from wing Matt Duffie to ignite the home team when they were in danger of losing.

Hawke's Bay played at a level they hadn't all season and looked dangerous throughout and would not have been undeserving winners had they managed to claim the win.

It was as if Spring was in the air in perfect conditions as both sides gave the ball plenty of air. Hawke's Bay hooker and captain Ash Dixon was in electric form, scoring the side's first try in the eighth minute and then setting up their second in the 26th minute when his midfield break unleashed speed and a dummy before he was lowered just short of the line.

From the ruck the ball went to the short side where fullback Tiaan Falcon's quick hands gave wing Cardiff Vaega the room to score.

North Harbour had set the pace from the outset with fullback Shaun Stevenson and Duffie both making exciting breaks but unable to get their final passes away, which was down to fine cover defence from Hawke's Bay.

The strength of the North Harbour pack also threatened to overpower the Hawke's Bay scrum but until an 18th minute penalty try the advantage didn't yield any five-pointers.

The half-time break produced a response from the home side who returned to the field with better concentration setting up a chance after a long pass to Stevenson on the left touch from prop Sione Mafileo. With Hawke's Bay cover across, Stevenson placed a grubber infield, burst past defenders and gained a favourable bounce to score and reclaim the lead.

North Harbour's frustration resulted in an attempted Garryowen rather than a kick to touch. But it was a classic case of giving the ball away, something Ihaia West recognised. He put the kick through for second five-eighths Richard Buckman, who was on the left wing, and he cut infield. Substitute forward Joshua Eden-Whaitiri was on hand to take the play forward and then the loose forwards Tony Lamborn and Josh Renton passed the ball on and from the ruck on the line it was prop Jason Long who scored.

North Harbour's cause wasn't helped when No.8 Hapakuki Moala-Liavaa was sin-binned for a late tackle on halfback Brad Weber and West landed the penalty goal to go to a 31-24 lead.

But a lineout won from the restart saw a pass from lock Gerard Cowley-Tuioti to Duffy, standing at first receiver. He used his feet to open up a brilliant gap and put the accelerator to the floor to clear out on a 40m break to the goalposts.

It proved a decisive score in the final outcome, even if subsequent penalty goals were exchanged, two to Gatland and one to West.

Scorers: North Harbour 33 (Penalty try, Shaun Stevenson, Matt Duffie tries; Bryn Gatland 2 con, 4 pen) Hawke's Bay 30 (Ash Dixon, Cardiff Vaega, Jason Long tries; Ihaia West 3 con, 2 pen). HT: 13-17